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AFGSC remembers 8th, 20th Air Force sacrifices

  • Published
  • By Yancy Mailes
  • Air Force Global Strike Command History Office

This time of the year is important as the nation recognizes those who paid the ultimate sacrifice while answering the nation's call. Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and Air Force Global Strike Command remembers the sacrifices of the 8th and 20th Air Force members.

The sacrifices of those serving in the 8th and 20th Air Forces date back to World War II. Seventy years ago, the allies declared victory over the Nazis, but the hefty blows to Nazi-occupied Europe cost the Mighty Eighth more than 26,000 lives. Halfway across the globe, 20th Air Force's Pacific strategic bombardment campaign ultimately brought the Japanese to the bargaining table and ended the war in August 1945. That effort also came with a price: 576 Airmen perishing in the skies above the Pacific.

As World War II ended, Strategic Air Command rose up to answer the nation's call as the world entered the Cold War. While America faced the spread of communism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, SAC kept stoic watch over our nation's security with land-based ICBMs and nuclear capable bombers, prepared to respond to aggression at a moment's notice. Conventionally, SAC showed the world a bomber force that provided the U.S. with global reach and global power.

The B-52 entered combat for the first time on June 18, 1965 as part of Operation Arc Light. On that day, 15 bombers from the 7th Bomb Wing, Carswell AFB, Texas, and 15 bombers from the 320th Bomb Wing, Mather AFB, California, took off from Andersen Air Base, Guam, headed for a target in South Vietnam. Unfortunately, that first mission was fraught with difficulty. It began with tragedy when two of the B-52s collided, killing eight crew members while another crew member was declared as missing-in-action.

B-52 crews continued to support operations in Southeast Asia for the next seven years, again playing a large role in bringing the enemy to the bargaining table.  In December 1972, President Nixon called upon the global reach and global power assets to bring peace through superior firepower. Over the course of 11 nights, B-52 crews led Operation Linebacker II, the aerial bombing campaign that ultimately forced North Vietnam back to the negotiation table and led to the January 1973 cease fire agreement, ending the Vietnam War. This required brave sacrifice as 92 SAC crew members were involved with downed aircraft, nine of whom sacrificed their lives executing the mission on behalf of their country.

While SAC's motto was "Peace is our Profession," the Cold War did not end without loss. An estimated 2,700 Airmen died in combat, reconnaissance, operational alert and training missions as SAC pioneered the concepts of strategic bombardment and long-range strike while also deterring the nation's enemies.

More than half a century after World War II and six years after its stand-up, Air Force Global Strike Command is comprised of Airmen from multiple generations, bound by the same selfless service that has fueled the U.S. military since its inception. We relentlessly strive to improve ourselves and the way we do business, and we are determined to leave a legacy of which the next generation will be willing to defend.